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Paris, Venice, London. Europe is home to some of the most enchanting and cultured cities on the planet. Although these concrete jungles are rich with experiences, from shopping to cuisine, there are also an unfathomable array of landscapes enticing visitors from every corner of the globe.
Known simply as Geres, Portugal’s only national park is over 300 million years old. The Iberian Peninsula was crushed against Europe, fusing together and creating part of Portugal’s mountainous northern border with Spain.
Geres is one of the few national parks in the world that has a human population living harmoniously within the wilderness. The community villages of Tourem, Junias and Pitoes are home to natives preserving ancient values and traditions. Medieval castles, monasteries and sanctuaries echoing times gone by can be found amongst the exuberant vegetation covering the mountainsides.
The magnificent scenes of Dolomiti Bellunesi look as if they are bucolic paintings, created by one of the world’s artistic masters. Grass-carpeted valleys rich with wild flowers contrast beautifully against the alabaster peaks of sculptural mountains. Italy is lucky to have such a dream-world in its borders.
The park has been formed over countless millennia and Mother Nature has a huge part to play in its dramatic geology. The soft rock of the landscape has been cut, drilled and gorged by the wind and the rain and continues to shapeshift today. Dolomiti Bellunesi is constantly evolving.
Dark green alpine forests give way to deep turquoise pools and the crags of mountains which have been cast by ancient glaciers. Durmitor park has 48 peaks above 2000 meters in altitude, making it a popular location for hikers. Most awe-inspiring is Bobotov Kuk, a colossal peak standing 2523 meters high.
Everything at Durmitor will dwarf you. Even the majestic alpines rise 50 meters into the cerulean sky which is often graced by eagles, buzzards and vultures. The UNESCO World Heritage Centre also has some rare animals calling the floors of the forests home. Roe deer, foxes, chamois and strictly herbivorous bears have all been spotted meandering the plains.
Standing on the sun-drenched prairies with endangered Przewalski wild horses in the distance, you’d assume you were in the Wild West. In fact, you are in the beating heart of Hungary’s agrarian history.
Hortobagy National Park is part of the Great Hungarian Plane, which covers the eastern half of the country. It was once home to native Hungarians called csikosok. They were skilled herdsmen and nurtured herds of cattle and goat across the meadows.
Despite pastoral traditions of the Great Plane now being etched in history, many decedents remain and can be seen silhouetted against the sky, thundering across the prairies on horseback.
Sprawling 13,600 square kilometres, Vatmajokull National Park is Europe’s largest protected area. People tend to tentatively step foot in to the wilderness from Asbyrgi, overwhelmed by the drama of the landscape ahead of them. From desert canyon and buried volcanoes, to arctic tundra and eerie ice caves, there is not a geological wonder that Vatnajokull doesn’t offer.
One of the most popular excursions during the winter months is to step inside the park’s incredible ice caves. Each spring the caves melt and are reformed every winter, meaning the caves take different shapes each year. Standing inside the ice cave feels as if the ocean has been paused in time.
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